Styx: Shards of Darkness is Cyanide’s second foray into the stealth genre following Styx: Master of Shadows and serves as the sequel to the latter. These games share their setting with, Of Orcs and men, a RPG venture by Cyanide which also features Styx the Goblin as one of the playable protagonists.
The player controls, Styx, the one and only goblin who is a master thief and assassin and Shards of Darkness follows him as he infiltrates the city of Körangar to solve the mystery of the sudden alliance between the Dark Elves and the Dwarves. The game, however, starts in Thoben, a human slum surrounded by swamps which serves as the tutorial level. While game’s plot pacing and writing are a definite improvement over the first, it also sports a plethora of improvements design wise as well, the most prominent of which is the expanded skill tree.
The game’s skill tree is vast and interconnected. The system sports five distinct trees; Alchemy, Kill, Stealth, Perception, and Cloning and the interconnected nature of it allows for players to customize their Styx to a very flexible degree. Alchemy will help Styx with crafting poisons and potions. The skills from the Kill tree will make dispatching foes easier while Stealth makes them unaware of your presence and reduces detection. Perception skills allow Styx to better survey his environment and enemies, enabling better ambushes.
The final tree, Cloning, which is arguably the most fun to indulge in, enables Styx to make clones of himself. These clones can be used for simple distractions and as live bait for ambushes and traps. A specific skill which becomes available as you progress deeper down the Cloning skill tree, allows Styx to switch places with his clones, giving far more versatility to these skills. The game’s online co-op mode also utilizes the cloning mechanic as the one hosting the game will play as Styx while the co-op partner plays as a clone of Styx, equipped with the skills unlocked in the latter’s own game.
Coming to the game’s level design, praise must be levied on the incredibly detailed world and the verticality of the levels. The levels are vast and feature many secrets to uncover as well many dark nooks and crannies for Styx to hide or more often, stash bodies in. Styx’s movements are both responsive and fluid, as a result, navigating any obstacle becomes an easy endeavor. However, the levels though vast, have very linearly laid out objectives as part of the missions and make no use of the sprawling level design, leaving large areas of the map empty but for a few materials to collect for crafting and such.
Confrontations are entirely discouraged and the best action to take on being discovered is to run and hide rather than standing and fighting. Styx’s moves in open combat are limited to parrying which comes down to very specifically timed button press which is harder to execute than it sounds. As such keeping in line with its theme and Styx’s strength, slinking in the shadows, sneaking up and killing your enemies is the preferred method of play. That however, comes with its own difficulties. Unlike the previous game, killing someone doesn’t always go unnoticed as the victim will make noise, holding down the attack button during the deed will result in a muffled kill but even then the noise is just enough to alert surrounding enemies. Thus caution is advised beyond anything else even when navigating the environment as camera angles around ledges are very odd and cumbersome, one wrong move can quickly lead to a fall resulting in a game over.
However, Styx’s dagger isn’t the only way to kill. Other methods at the player’s disposal include traps which can do anything from poison the targets, burn them to a crisp or just straight up melt them to mush. Enemies can also be killed by poisoning their food which can be found across level. Other weapons such as bolts or poison darts can kill certain unarmored enemies as well. Players can also study the patrol routes of the enemies and lay elaborate traps to pick them off, this is not limited to but include dropping chandeliers on them. Styx’s Amber Vision is an indispensable tool in this aspect as it reveals objects in the environments that can be interacted with, materials for crafting, enemies and even their line of sight. All of Styx’s weapons and tools can be crafted on the go provided he has the necessary materials and access to a workbench which are strewn about the level.
As mentioned earlier, the writing in this game is a vast improvement over the first even then most of the dialogues seem lackluster and don’t hit their intended mark. Though Styx is still the star of the show in all his cynical glory, the supporting cast comes up woefully short. The atmosphere itself is in murky territory as the game can’t decide on whether it’s trying to be a serious dark fantasy or a somewhat light sword and sorcery affair. Many of the quips are ill timed and fall flat barring the ones Styx makes himself and this causes huge impediment to the immersion leading to some awkward moments. This fact is only worsened by the lackluster conclusion to the plot which ends on a very unimpressive note compared to the first game.
The game’s enemy AI for the most part works but at times, it is impossible to ignore the archaic and clockwork like aspects. However, such AI is a staple of most stealth games and normally should not take away from the experience. Certain mishaps do happen and that detracts quite a bit from the experience. For instance, a level where a guard is able to spot your hiding place no matter how well hidden you are or guards seeing you through walls. Styx bundles more than its fair share of such mishaps and that severely makes the game frustrating factoring in that open combat is not viable enough to get past such guards.
Styx: Shards of Darkness doesn’t break new ground as far as stealth games go but it does manage to use the staples of the genre to its advantage and ends up giving the players a fairly interesting ride. The level and art design have definitely progressed in the right direction but with the lackluster writing, they don’t get far enough to be considered great. However, as far as gameplay is concerned the huge focus on stealth and remaining hidden is commendable but a lack of proper options to defend oneself on discovery is a pitfall. Overall, Shards of Darkness isn’t anything to write home about but the game manages to stay interesting just enough to warrant attention from hardcore fans of stealth games.
Fluid and responsive controls making navigation easy and smooth
Vast and incredibly detailed levels give a sense of adventure to progression
Skill trees with huge potential for mixing and matching allowing numerous customizations
Various fun and improvised ways to dispatch enemies keeps gameplay from getting stale
Lackluster story with bland writing which loses its charm midway
Mission design fails to utilize vast levels and ends up being too linear
Parrying system is poorly implemented
The Co-op mode though fun is rather cumbersome in later levels
Buggy Enemy AI
Cumbersome and odd camera positioning while hanging from ledges
- Cyanide Studio